This was my first real solo album. I saved up all the money I earned working for Frank ($14,000) and put a down payment on a house on Fellows Avenue in Sylmar, California. The house was perfectly situated on a quiet cul-de-sac on a corner lot. The previous owner, (Ol’ man Ray Kawal, a cool guy who’s ghost still lingers in limbo about the place) had built this tool shed out in the back. It was two separate rooms about 24′ by 17′ each. Perfect.
The time there in Sylmar was one of the best. There was never less than 5 people living in the house on a given day and we were all as close as friends could be. Having all those people live there allowed me to play the guitar and build the studio while they paid the mortgage.
Some of the people that passed through there were… Pia (we lived together here for the duration), Marty Schwartz, Mike O’Brien, Scotty Matthews, Chris Frazier, Stu Hamm, Bob & Suzannah Harris (Suzannah has written a book called “Under The Same Moon” which includes stories from the time), Di, Pam and her family John Robert and Theresa, and a countless host of wayward refugee musicians.
I bought this book called “The Audio Cyclopedia”. It’s a bible for anything that has to do with audio and studios. I studied this book and rebuilt the tool shed into a 2 room recording haven completely by myself. It took 8 months and cost $3,000. In the meantime I gave guitar lessons so I could buy food. I christened the place “Stucco Blue Studio” and commenced with all the nonsense.
Purchasing a Fostex 1/4-inch 8-track machine gave the studio the multitrack credibility it needed. Carvin Manufacturing donated a console and an X-100B guitar amplifier and Frank Zappa, God bless him, loaned tons of gear to make the recordings a reality.
Everything and anybody was recorded if they got too close. There is a vault full of tapes from that period. I took a handful of this stuff and put it together for release on an Evatone Flexi-disk. After It was completed it sounded like it could make a quirky yet entertaining record. I thought… “Who’s it gonna hurt?”
No record company in their right mind would want to release this stuff, it was too eclectic. So I industriously got to work with my then manager and dear friend at the time, Laurel Fishman. We started a label called Akashic Records that was later changed to Light Without Heat Records. It was quite easy to start the label. It cost $10.00.
The next step was to get the records printed up so we called some artists for the art work, and packaging and got a list of all the vinyl makers in LA… Here’s a synopsis on the making of the record.
a. Built the studio
When the record was finished and in my hands, it was a great thrill, but now what? You have to get your butt out there and sell the thing. I called many distributors and not one returned my call. If you’re a struggling musician and are trying to get your product or your band going, you know that there is nothing as frustrating as someone not returning your phone calls. For this reason I always return every call I get no matter how insignificant (but I also never give my phone number out.)
Finally, there was a call back from Cliff Cultreri at Important Record distributors. He knew of me from the records I did with Frank and was interested in buying 1000 records. This was an incredible event, being that they were selling for $4.10 each and they only cost about $0.79 each to make. This generated enough funds to promote Flex-Able and keep recording. Soon Cliff called again and said that all 1000 sold and he wanted another 1000.
In the beginning I would change the color of the label and the inscription that was carved into the mother stamper on each batch of 1000 disks.
There was a good reaction from European distributors too. It really started to come together due to the loyal fan base of Frank Zappa. Initially it was his fans that bought the records and made it possible for me to continue. By the way, there are 4 different versions of Flex-Able released in Europe. The only difference is a slight edit I made to each of the mother masters. I did this for all the hard core neurotic collectors. Anybody have them all?
This reordering was pretty consistent until “The Attitude Song” was published in Guitar Player Magazine on a Evatone floppy disk (not the computer kind, the actual floppy kind). That’s when the reorders went up to 3 and 4 thousand. Soon after that CDs became popular and Flex-Able was fetching $7.50 for 1 CD. When I joined the David Lee Roth band and the Eat ‘Em and Smile CD came out, sales of Flex-Able took off and when Passion And Warfare came out, Flex-Able took another leap in sales. Today I still own that funny little record and I’ve probably sold 400,000 to date. I thank you for that.
This story is outlined not to show off how much money Flex-Able generated, but to inspire artistic, would-be music moguls that they can do it too. But don’t forget, it takes nonstop vision and effort. It helps to be fiercely committed and have a lot of good karma too.
Oh, and you have to want to rule the world